From breathtaking natural wonders to raging dancehall parties, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best ways to feel da riddims of this laid-back Caribbean isle.
1. ‘Hiking’ up Dunn’s River Falls
Tumbling down a series of terraces formed by limestone deposits, this stunning aquamarine waterfall near the north coast port town of Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica’s most popular natural attractions. Climbing the water-smoothed stairs up the face of the falls is arguably the most fun you can have working out on the island – guides are available for hire and rubber booties can be rented, but neither is strictly necessary. For the best experience, try to visit when cruise ships aren’t in dock.
2. Hitting the clubs and street parties of Kingston
Jamaica’s capital might have a gritty reputation, but there isn’t anywhere else in the Caribbean where you can party like you can in Kingston. For those keen to get a taste of the city’s famous dancehall scene, be sure to catch the Weddy Weddy Wednesday club night at Stone Love HQ, and look out for flyers advertising Kingston’s famous sound-system street parties that pop up all over town each week. In the hills of St Andrews overlooking the city, Dub Club is the place to throw some serious shapes of a Sunday night.
3. Saluting the reggae gods
You don’t have to go far to listen to reggae music in Jamaica, but if you’re a super fan, try to plan your trip around one of Jamaica’s reggae festivals including Rebel Salute (January), the Bob Marley Birthday Bash (February) and Reggae Sumfest (July). Bob Marley aficionados shouldn’t miss the museum dedicated to the icon, which is set into his former Kingston home.
4. Hiking, biking and sipping coffee in the Blue Mountains
Rising up in a series of verdant green peaks northeast of Kingston, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains offer a lush, surprisingly cool escape from the tropical heat of the coast. On a clear day, it’s possible to see both coasts – as well as Cuba! – from the summit of the tallest mountain, Blue Mountain Peak (2256 metres), which is roughly a six-hour return hike from historic Whitfield Hall, a working Blue Mountains Coffee farm where you can try a cup of the world-famous brew. A more relaxing way to explore the scenery is by bike tour, which includes a visit to a coffee plantation.
5. Making glow angels in Glistening Waters
Home to millions of microscopic bioluminescent organisms that glow a bright blue-green when disturbed, this luminous lagoon in Falmouth, east of Montego Bay, is the best place to catch a light show in Jamaica. The rare lagoon – less than half a dozen are thought to exist around the world – is visited via cruise, with the option for guests to take a dip in the 1.5 metre-deep lagoon and watch the harmless organisms light up around your body.
6. Sipping Red Stripe in the beach bars of Negril
If there’s one place in Jamaica to crack a beer, it’s in the beach bars of Negril, which boast some of the island’s best, uninterrupted sunset views. You’ll find plenty of bars along the west coast resort town’s stunning Seven Mile Beach, but none quite like Rick’s, where you can watch daredevils diving off the bar’s cliff-side perch into the aquamarine sea below.
7. Seeking out Jamaica’s best jerk chicken and patties
Marinated in a scotch bonnet pepper sauce and barbecued to perfection, jerk chicken (or pork) is Jamaica’s national dish. You can order it everywhere, but many claim Scotchies restaurant, which has branches in Montego Bay and St Anne, makes the best.
When it comes to snacking, it’s all about patties – inexpensive flaky pastry pockets with spiced meat and vegetable fillings. The jury is out as to which of Jamaica’s two major patty chains – Juici and Tastee – make the best, so you’ll just have to try both.
8. Visiting Jamaica’s ‘great houses’
Jamaica’s heritage mansions provide a fascinating window into the country’s often dark colonial-era past, when hundreds of slaves were imported from Africa to work the sugar plantations that many of these stately homes presided over. While some now sit in ruins, a handful have been painstakingly restored into museums. Several of the best include the 17th-century Battlefield Great House and Gardens and the 19th-century Rose Hall near Montego Bay, and the 18th-century Prospect Plantation near Ocho Rios.
9. Riding a bobsleigh
Gimmicky as it is, whooshing down the Mystic Mountain bobsleigh course, inspired by the Jamaica bobsled team that debuted at the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Kiss your lucky egg and strap yourself into the custom-designed sled for the one kilometre-long ride down the side of a lush mountain near Dunn’s River Falls.
10. Floating around in Jamaica’s famous lagoons
You’ll wonder why scenes from The Blue Lagoon, the 1980s flick that made Brooke Shields a household name, were filmed in Malta when you clap eyes on the vivid blue Jamaican lagoon of the same name near Port Antonio, a favourite holiday spot of celebrities including Beyonce. Less than two kilometres west, you’ll find another impossibly turquoise lagoon at Frenchman’s Cove, a favourite hangout of Burt Reynolds and the late Elizabeth Taylor (and even Queen Elizabeth II!) back in the swinging 60s.
Feature image by Hugo Doria via Unsplash.